What happens if you take an outspoken New Atheist from the UK and a pastor from Moscow, Idaho and toss them together for a few days with cameras constantly rolling? Well, that’s obvious. You get “Collision”, a new documentary released late last month on DVD and (I have to add the proper kudos) a birthday present from my beautiful wife. (She gets me.)
Atheist Christopher Hitchens and Pastor Douglas Wilson are no strangers to each other via writing and the Interweb. Several years ago, Christopher Hitchens was doing some writing on new atheism and his main slant in its support–namely that religion is irretrievably evil. He received some rather intriguing responses from a man in Idaho named Douglas Wilson. Apparently, the dialogue was so good that the two men were invited to co-author a book entitled Is Christianity Good for the World? However, despite co-authoring a book, the two men had never met in person before the several days of public debates of the same title as the book that this film revolves around.
The film, directed by Darren Doane (this is where I show my film buff skills with a brief synopsis of the previous films he has done…ok, I haven’t seen them), has a quick overall pace, but knows how to settle in for the important moments. At the end, I was thinking, “I could watch another hour or two of this,” which is good. Most documentaries start off great and then make you claw your eyes out during the second half of the film as the movie goes preachy on whatever topic. (Or they add a self-congratulatory biography of how poor Al Gore, the senator’s son, overcame all his obstacles…) Collision doesn’t do either.
It helps that Hitchens and Wilson are both big personalities. There’s a scene in the middle where the two of them are quoting their favorite sentences from author P.G. Wodehouse and just laughing until they cried. They debate each other in such a way that if you saw them at the booth across the restaurant you would want to pull up a chair and listen in. As Hitchens acknowledges, Wilson’s adherence and claim to actually believe the Bible make the debates work. Hitchens comments of his boredom with debating the water-downed beliefs in the UK which bend over backwards to not really believe much of anything. Of course, Hitchens himself is sort of a rock-star personality, as the camera crew often catches fans recognizing him on the street and he makes no attempt to stay humble about such things.
Doanne in his direction does a great job of allowing the debate between the two to advance within the film itself. Although I am certain that some of the main points were made by each man at their various debate stops, you never get a sense that something has been recycled from earlier in the film. He also does a great job of giving pretty equal airtime to both men.
I was wondering whether the Reformed theology of Wilson would be a help or a hurt during the debates. But as most (good) theologians realize, the major problems of either Calvinism, Arminianism, or something-in-between are really problems that theism in general must answer (questions regarding foreknowledge, freedom of will, divine sovereignty, the problem of evil, etc.), so in that regard it doesn’t really change much of the overall argument.
If I could sum up the basic arguments, Hitchens argues that Christianity promotes wickedness, and Wilson responds that atheism can’t have a category called “wickedness” to put Christianity in. Obviously, these themes are teased out in greater detail by both men, but you’ll have to watch the movie to see them.
Collision is an excellent movie. For those interested in religious issues, it will be even more fascinating.
(FYI- The movie does not have a rating. There are two instances of profanity in it for those concerned.)